About seven o'clock on the morning of the 7th the signal for the attack was at last given, and immediately 800 pieces of cannon on our side opened fire on an equal number of Russian howitzers and guns, the projectiles from which ploughed through our ranks with a hissing noise such as it is impossible to describe. As ill luck would have it, our reserves at the beginning of the struggle, even those of the cavalry, were rather too near the fighting, and, either from vainglory or more likely from fear of giving a false impression to the enemy, they would not retire the few hundred paces needed to place them in a position less exposed to useless danger, so that we had the grief of seeing thousands of gallant cavaliers and fine horses struck down, though it was of the utmost importance to us to preserve them.
The Emperor had announced that he would establish his head-quarters on the redoubt taken the evening before, and as a matter of fact he passed a great part of the day on that elevated position, sitting on the steep bank of the exterior slope, and following all the movements of the troops with the glass he kept in his hand. His Guard was posted behind him on the amphitheatre formed by the redoubt and its surroundings, and all these picked men, curbing with difficulty their eager desire to take part in the fighting and help to secure the victory, presented a most imposing appearance.
General Compans had the honour of being the first to lead his infantry to exchange fire with the Russians. He was ordered to attack the enemy's centre on the left of the Passavero wood, and to reach it he had to scale the heights and take the redoubts which barred his passage. The 57th Regiment led the way with a dash, carrying all before it, the battalions charging the first redoubt at the double, where a hand-to-hand conflict lasted for nearly an hour. The rest of the division supported the movement, and the enemy returning with considerable reinforcements to try to retake the redoubt, the ditches were in a few minutes choked up with thousands of killed or wounded Russians. The Gerard and Friant divisions, meanwhile, supported by the cavalry, had attacked other redoubts on the right of that assailed by General Compans.